Jilt van Schayik 
•    Nationality: Dutch
•    Age: 25
•    Enterprise: Building Bridges

“Jilt, I’m going to do a blog piece about you.”

“But I’m not an entrepreneur.”

“Yes you are! You’re a social entrepreneur.”

“Oh yeah… I guess I am.”

It may not have struck Jilt that that he can be described as a social entrepreneur, but his work over the past few years has certainly earned him that title. Jilt is the founder of Building Bridges, an organization that aims to decrease the gap between youth and policy makers. To achieve this, he and his team will be travelling on a bus through eight countries in Africa to speak face to face with youth entrepreneurs, document their stories, their concerns and their challenges and then present these to policymakers. This is not the first time Building Bridges has travelled to speak with youth – last time, they made a similar trip on bicycles.

“My first experience with entrepreneurship was at university. I was studying business administration.  Part of our course requirement was to actually set up an organization.” With two classmates, he created the company ‘Love Your Planet’, to educate children about waste and sustainability. The team built a trash can that would speak to you when you threw garbage inside it.

I asked Jilt how they built this garbage can, since none of them was an engineer. He told me that thankfully, one of the team members had some skill with woodworking. As to where and how they raised their initial money, the team depended on crowdfunding. Then I saw the mischievous grin that I normally see on entrepreneurs' faces when they’re about to reveal one of their tricks; “We ordered all the parts for the bin online – but we ordered samples. That way, we got it all for free!”

Still a student, he then travelled with his parents to India and secured an internship at Volkswagen in Mumbai for 8 months. There, he was involved with media and marketing and was in a team that was responsible for a multi-million Euro account. The difference between the big wealthy corporate office and the slums which he would pass on his way home every night was eye-opening. “I asked myself, how can a company make so much money when there are so many poor people living just meters away?”.

So he decided that he would turn his thesis project into a consultancy that would actually have societal impact. He travelled to Kenya to create a cooperative for farmers. He formulated a business plan that would allow them to work directly with customers by removing the need for a middle man. This meant that they would be able to keep a larger percentage of their revenues for themselves. The project is still running to this day. But how could a young boy from a small village in the Netherlands create such an impact in Kenya? “I reached out to local organizations before I went. It was pure cold calling until I found an organization with whom I could partner. But yeah, I didn’t know anyone in Kenya or anything about Kenya before I moved there!”

After his studies, Jilt became a UN Youth delegate, and a WEF Global Shaper. He attended several UN meetings but grew increasingly frustrated at what he perceived to be a mismatch between what the youth wanted and what the “old people in suits” thought the youth wanted.

That’s how Building Bridges started. Jilt was determined that the voices of youth had to be represented in policy-making. So he decided to make the bicycle trip, from Amsterdam to Cape Town and have focused one-on-one consultations with young people along the way. Before he left, he approached the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for support – financial and otherwise. It took a while to convince them, but they are now fully behind him.

“When we did our first tour, there was one theme that all the youth would mention during all our interviews – unemployment. It’s a huge problem”. This is why Building Bridges is now focusing on youth entrepreneurs during its second tour – Road to Nairobi. The stories and information they will collect from youth entrepreneurs during the tour will be presented to high level policymakers at the High Level Meeting in Nairobi on 28th November, 2016.

I asked Jilt what he will do when the tour is over.

“Oh, there are so many things! I could tell you- but do you want to write a blog, or a book?” And there it was again, that mischievous grin.

The Building Bridges tour has begun- you can click here to see how you can get involved.

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